Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Old VCR Christmas with Dick Smith and his VZ200

Signs you've continued to marry well: this year for Christmas, your wife finds you a Dick Smith VZ200 Personal Colour Computer Technical Reference Manual.
Like the Dick Smith Type-right, the 1983 VZ200 is another Laser rebadge, this time of the Z80 and 6847 VDG-based VTech VZ200. This computer was widely distributed, available in at least the United States and Canada (in two versions), the UK, Hungary, Finland, and offered by Dick Smith in Australia and New Zealand. Dick Smith offered the VZ200 with 8K of RAM (2K video, 6K for BASIC) and an optional 16K expansion cartridge, cassette deck, printer and various software programs. While it sold poorly in its other markets largely due to competition from the dominant Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, it did well enough in Australia to justify rebadging the followup VTech Laser 310 as the upwardly compatible Dick Smith VZ300 in 1985.

Video Technology designed the VZ200 as their own version of the Tandy TRS-80 Model I, which Dick Smith sold as the System-80 via the EACA Video Genie. While the Video Genie was a more or less straightforward clone of the TRS-80 Model I, the VZ200 uses the basic architecture but with a different memory map, BASIC and video chip (same as the Tandy Color Computer and others). The Z80 runs at 3.58MHz (versus the Model I's 1.774MHz) and some of the BASIC differences were caused by VTech intentionally crippling the BASIC which some extended BASICs partially reversed. VTech also produced a Laser 100 and 110, differing from the 200 primarily in built-in RAM, but Dick Smith never sold those.

The Technical Reference Manual isn't as sophisticated or (at 21 pages) anywhere near as comprehensive as, say, the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide, but it gives you a simple memory map plus some documentation of the ROM routines, sound and available video modes. It complements the BASIC Reference Manual which the computer came with. The original price tag on the back says it was sold for A$9.50.
Even more usefully, however, it also comes with schematics. While the VZ200 is relatively simple hardware with off-the-shelf components, these systems don't come up very often and it would be great to know how to repair it if a partially working unit ends up surfacing. All three system boards are provided.

I have to say she outdid herself this year. More when we actually land one of these things. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

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